Would Tess of the D'Urbervilles have been raped or seduced, according to today's laws in the UK?

(57 Posts)
KindDogsTail Fri 06-May-16 23:48:20

Tess of the D'Urbervilles was discussed by Melvin Bragg and his guests yesterday on radio 4 In Our Time www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b078zcrr
The question came: was she raped or seduced? One speaker said it was clear that Tess had not wanted it to happen, but consensus seemed to be that it is not clear whether she was raped or seduced.

I re-read Chapters 11 and 12 and it seemed to me that it was certainly rape. In my opinion the book, though in a subtle way, describes acquaintance rape. It even seems that Tess was half asleep when it happened.

I understand that when it was written Tess herself would have been blamed for having been with the perpetrator, and for not fighting him. Also, as she was not attacked, in those days, (and in these as far as some are concerned) this would have been evidence that she just seccumbed to seduction but not actually been raped. Now, however I feel sure she had not given consent.

Some people who may have been raped in this way might have been listening and felt rather concerned that the people discussing the book seemed so uncertain.

I was wondering what other people think.

KindDogsTail Sat 07-May-16 00:00:10

Here is the text.
Read Chapters 11 and 12.
There may be other references throughout the book but I have not had time to re-read it yet.
www.literaturepage.com/read/tess-of-the-durbervilles-76.html

timelytess Sat 07-May-16 00:10:08

Hmm. Weren't the terms 'seduction' and 'rape' interchangeable in the past, in a way they aren't today?

timelytess Sat 07-May-16 00:14:43

temporarily blinded by his ardent manners, had been stirred to confused surrender awhile
doesn't that suggest consent? Even if ill-advised?

MabelSideswipe Sat 07-May-16 00:16:58

When it was taught to us at sixth form college the Proffesor used the word rape which in hindsight surprises me as he was a bir of a dinosaur. He also said he thought Tess was the ideal of a young woman not like woman nowadays. Mind you he had a smirk when he said it.

KindDogsTail Sat 07-May-16 00:26:49

"Tess!" said d'Urberville.
There was no answer. The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves. Everything else was blackness alike. D'Urberville stooped; and heard a gentle regular breathing. He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.

Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess's guardian angel? where was the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps, like that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be awaked.

Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive
why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. One may, indeed, admit the possibility of a retribution lurking in the present catastrophe.
Doubtless some of Tess d'Urberville's mailed ancestors rollicking home from a fray had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly towards peasant girls of their time.
But though to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities, it is scorned by average human nature; and it therefore does not mend the matter.

KindDogsTail Sat 07-May-16 00:34:21

I didn't understand your meaning till it was too late (Tess)
That"s what every woman says (Alex Durberville)
How can you dare to use such words! she cried, turning impetuously upon him, her eyes flashing as the latent spirit (of which he was to see more some day) awoke in her. "My God! I could knock you out of the gig! Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel?

"Very well," he said, laughing; "I am sorry to wound you. I did wrong--I admit it. He dropped into some little bitterness as he continued: "Only you needn't be so everlastingly flinging it in my face. I am ready to pay to the uttermost farthing. You know you need not work in the fields or the dairies again. You know you may clothe yourself with the best, instead of in the bald plain way you have lately affected, as if you couldn't get a ribbon more than you earn."

SealSong Sat 07-May-16 01:03:50

When I read the book it stood out clearly as rape to me.

I must read some more Hardy, it's been a while.

KindDogsTail Sat 07-May-16 01:28:20

She had dreaded him, winced before him, succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her helplessness; then, temporarily blinded by his ardent manners, had been stirred to confused surrender awhile Timely you suggest this means she consented.

But this is at a point when she is looking back. She is referring to the circumstances that lead to her being with him in the first place and getting into his orbit I believe.

We learn she had been seeing him for three months.

In the lead up to the rape she was on a horse with him while he supposedly was taking her where she needed to go. In the quote you gave she may also have blamed herself for taking up his offer of accompanying her and getting on the horse with him.

When she realised he had been meandering on the route on purpose and not taking her to the destination, she tried to get away.

How could you be so treacherous!" said Tess, between archness and real dismay, and getting rid of his arm by pulling open his fingers one by one, though at the risk of slipping off herself. "Just when I've been putting such trust in you, and obliging you to please you, because I thought I had wronged you by that push! Please set me down, and let me walk home

He said they were lost and she could only go once he had made sure where they were, meanwhile she was to wait while he did this. He gave her his coat and she sat down on a pile of leaves. The horse stood nearby.

Before going he he let her now he had given her father a horse and her siblings toys making her feel obliged. She was crying in desperation because she realised he liked her but she did not return the feelings.

He went off on a walk out of the woods to get an idea of where they were.

She was eextremely exhausted and fell asleep on the leaves, Then when he came back she was quite definitely still asleep.

He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.

Then we learn her guardian angel had not been with her.

What happened to her is compared to the rape of peasant girls in the past.

After that we learn she was no longer a maiden.

We are told that she had realised the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing.

To me it seems as though what happened to her was not consensual at all.

In the next chapter when she meets him again he tells her thought no means yes.

He admitted he had done her wrong.

The word seduction was mentioned as a modern idiom during the radio discussion.

KindDogsTail Sat 07-May-16 01:36:36

SealSong
When I read the book it stood out clearly as rape to me.
To me too, as I said but during the radio discussion, surprisingly they said it was not clear. I wonder if by chance they presumed it could not be rape because it was not by attack?

I think Melvin Bragg may have thought it was, but he was not the expert so to speak, he was eliciting responses from the other speakers.

TinklyLittleLaugh Sat 07-May-16 02:08:35

I think he rapes her.

Strangely I still dislike Angel Clare even more.

FreshwaterSelkie Sat 07-May-16 06:35:20

I listened to the show yesterday too and I wasn't too impressed with how they were discussing whether it was rape or not. They seemed to take as a starting point that there wasn't any reason to believe that Tess consented, and then moved onto trying to analyse if Tess was "really" raped, or whether she was "forcibly seduced", but to me, that's rape and rape. I think they were trying to distinguish if he'd used any violence or threats, as if that were the distinguishing feature of rape, rather than the non-consent. I was really surprised at that, as the level of discussion on IOT is usually so high, and is so good about taking a female perspective, as they're so hot on getting women guests. Bit disappointed really.

FreshwaterSelkie Sat 07-May-16 06:39:53

I don't know if I missed a bit - were they discussing rape as it would have been viewed in Hardy's time, or as we would view it now? Because it would make more sense if it had been the former, and I can stop frothing over persistent rape myths...!

SpringSpringSpring Sat 07-May-16 06:44:13

I didn't listen to the programme but for the book to work as a whole I think it has to be unclear. There has to be some potential for her to be responsible for her downfall. It's a while since I read it though, probably time for a re-read.

AllTheDrama Sat 07-May-16 07:15:32

Think it's awful that they were making it even doubtful. I thought even in the older context the book couched the actual 'action' in a vague description, as was probably necessary, but still made it clear. The whole theme of the book is how Tess' downfall was due to the poor actions of the men around her and her inability to cope with this/live up to what was expected of her as a woman.

I really hope they weren't in doubt about the scene as rape in terms of modern morals/laws though! If it was put in a modern context - a young woman's father gets blind drunk so she has to drive the car home, she falls asleep and writes off the car so goes to find work so they can buy a new one. She has a sleazy boss who sexually harasses her but she's too naive to realise, then walking home one day she accidentally spills her can of Coke over another woman who picks a fight with her. Her boss comes by and offers her a lift and she accepts to get out of the fight, then instead of taking her home he takes her on a scenic drive until she's too far from home to walk back. He says he's lost, and the car's running out of petrol, so he goes off to find directions, letting her know before he goes that he's bought her father a new car and Xboxes for all the kids. She's gutted as now it's clear to her he fancies her and now she owes him even though she doesn't fancy him at all. She dozes off in the car, he comes back while she's asleep and starts having sex with her, then when she wakes up she's too overawed and shocked to fight him.

That would not only be rape, that would be huge Daily Mail 'what is the world coming to' fodder when all the details were picked over in court, so is it just the romantic idea of being seduced on horseback clouding the issue?

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHorrid Sat 07-May-16 07:41:28

I have to confess I've never read Tess. But I did listen to In Our Time yesterday.

Even I was wondering why they were debating whether or not she was raped.

ivegotdreadfulpmttoday Sat 07-May-16 07:44:55

When I read it years ago (in the 1980s so attitudes different even to now) I thought she was raped.

SanityClause Sat 07-May-16 07:54:51

I studied this at school in the 80s.

The teacher told us she thought it was important to the story that she was seduced, and not raped, but now I think it probably didn't matter to Tess, in the Victorian world she lived in. Either way, she was "spoiled goods".

I agree that it is rape, viewed through modern eyes, though, whatever the Victorians would have thought.

I must re-read it.

Wolpertinger Sat 07-May-16 08:04:44

I always thought it was rape, even as a teenager in the late 80s. She fancies Alec, she is flirting with him but she thinks he may marry her - she hasn't understood the power dynamic means that is never going to happen.

So some of what she does, eg getting on the horse, is consensual but as she says 'I never understood your meaning until it was too late' - never consented to sex.

'Confused surrender' - she isn't consenting but can't get out of the sex so effectively stays quite while he rapes her, still in hopes that this is a meaningful encounter that will lead to a legitimate relationship.

And yes, Angel Clare was spectacularly hateable.

Lellyloulou Sat 07-May-16 08:06:46

I think it's rape and doc when I read it.

Love the book though is very sad. Agree re Angel Clare. Arse.

Trills Sat 07-May-16 08:13:06

I really don't like that book.

The author seems to enjoy torturing Tess.

There are occasional asides when the author says If, at this point, Tess had done X, everything would have been OK. Unfortunately all her experiences up to this point led her to believe that Y was the right thing to do. Watch what happens now

FinallyHere Sat 07-May-16 08:36:36

So glad to read these comments, i feel that i have found my people. Although Ive read Hardy, I always find his idea that people, well, let's face it, women, are so trapped in their own circumstances that there is no hope for them, so very, very depressing.

As PP pointed out, he even points out, oh, look, silly girl about to do the wrong thing again, silly little thing. Urgh.

KindDogsTail Sat 07-May-16 08:50:38

Wolpertinger
So some of what she does, eg getting on the horse, is consensual but as she says 'I never understood your meaning until it was too late' - never consented to sex.

Yes, she consented to the horse rise - but not to sex. Rape

AllThe Drama That was a brilliant synopsis in modern terms, thank you.

SpringSpring in Victorian times she would undoubtedly have been blamed. She went to his family in the first place, she flirted, she got on the horse, she did not fight him. In those days a lady would not have even been alone wit a man and if she were she would have been blamed/ruined.

But it does seem clear she was actually asleep when he did it, and the words Hardy writes afterwards such as her guardian angel had not been there seem to suggest he thought there was no consent.

Freshwater I am relieved you noticed this in the programme too.
I do not think I heard them suggest that it would not have been clear in Vistorian times, but in ours we would call it rape.

Tinkly I thought the same about Angel.

When She Was BAd I have copied lines from Chapter 11 & !2 in the first posts that I thought relevant to the rape question.

AyeAmarok Sat 07-May-16 08:55:31

I also listened to this yesterday day and felt very uncomfortable about how they were talking about whether it was a rape (I think they initially used the term "physical rape"?).

It was definitely rape to me.

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Sat 07-May-16 09:02:51

Did you know that there are two editions of the text? The one that most people are familiar with is the 1892 version, which Hardy revised from his 1891 version. In the latter, Alec "went to the horse, took a druggist's bottle from a parcel on the saddle, and...held it to her mouth unawares. Tess sputtered and coughed, and...swallowed as he poured." And later we are told how "some sons of the forest" were unaware that "their sister was in the hands of the spoiler"

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